Westwall

A Border as Fate and Fortune

Losheim, a village with a population of 240 situated in the south west of Kreis Euskirchen, has a moving history. In the recent past the construction of the West Wall, the Ardennes offensive and the constant changes between belonging to Germany and Belgium was the fate of this village. Because of the border location the residents had first-hand experience of the First and Second World War with all their consequences.

The West Wall 

After the First World War many European countries constructed costly border fortifications; it was believed that the modern defence fortifications would have a deterrent influence in order to prevent future conflicts. On 30.October 1935, for example, the German Reich government decreed that the Reich borders would be fortified within a time frame of 15 years up to 1950. The construction work in the West only began after the re-possession of the de-militarised Rhineland zone on 9. March 1936. The construction work progressed very slowly up to 1938, until Hitler called for “speedy and increased construction work on the West fortification” on 28.May 1938. Incidentally, the name West Wall was created through this declaration. The construction of the installations near Losheim took place in different phases between the middle of 1938 until spring 1940. Propagated as “a wall of peace and protection” by the National Socialists, in reality, the 630 km long fortification line between Kleve and Weil am Rhein was in preparation for war, but the west remained peaceful, because Hitler invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia. After the French campaign in June 1940 the West Wall was no longer needed and for this reason there was disarmament, and construction was no longer continued.

The Ardennes Offensive

With the advancement of the Allies in the second half of 1944, the West Wall became relevant; due to the American speedy advancement, they came to a halt at the wide front line of the West Wall in the middle of September 1944 and could move no further. On the morning of 16. December 1944 the German counter-offensive (the Ardennes Offensive) followed with the goal of regaining control of the Port of Antwerp in order to prevent the reinforcement of allied troops. The advance stagnated at Christmas time; the German offensives in the north and south were quickly held up, as opposed to the middle of Germany where they nearly reached the Maas. Because of this the German units, under pressure from the British and American air force, had to retreat in the path of the reinforcements, and by the end of January had returned to their original positions. Because of the enemy attacks most of the Losheim residents left the village at the beginning of October 1944 and moved to the west; some remained to protect their properties. In the end American advance troops arrested the few courageous people on 19. November 1944 and took them to the occupied hinterland. – During the Ardennes offensive German troops re-captured Losheim and the fugitives took the opportunity to return to their homes. With the fast American counter-attack in January 1945 Losheim was finally in American hands. Because of the situation at the West Wall there were repeated fluctuations in the war front during the battles, and months long shell fire, killing eight residents. The people who returned found their village destroyed, the houses badly damaged, the gardens, fields and streets strewn with shell-holes, dead soldiers and animals lay between them. The deceased soldiers were temporarily buried in the Losheim cemetery, later they were transferred to the Hürtgen military cemetery.

Border Fluctuations

There were already far reaching decisions made concerning Losheim after the First World War. In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the village became a part of the (former Prussian) District of Malmedy belonging to the Kingdom of Belgium, against the will of the people. Only after long negotiations the independent Borough of Losheim came into being, incorporated into the former District of Schleiden belonging to the German Reich on 1. October 1921. However the drawing up of the border line violated several elementary rights of the population and with one stroke of the pen disposed of centuries-old structures. In the first years after the Second World War the occupation changed between the Americans and the British, before Belgian order management was installed for a year in the late summer. Afterwards it was under German management until 1948. Through the Six Power Treaty of 22. March 1949, the west border of Germany was changed and Losheim fell under Belgian order management. The German- Belgian Settlement Treaty, that came into effect on 28. August 1958, ended the countless years of changing affiliation by annexing Losheim to the Republic of Germany. The people who lived directly on the border were able to decide for themselves whether they wanted to belong to Germany or Belgium. This is the reason why the present border runs in a zigzag line.